Tonight Creationism was discussed on Newsnight. Essentially Creationism holds that God created the earth in 6 24-hours days some 6000 to 10000 years ago. Ussher gave the date of 4004BC in 1656 before there was any geology. Many think creationism is the traditional church teaching, but before the evidence for an ancient earth in 1800AD, the church was ambivalent as there was no evidence either way. Thus Christians before 1800 had little to go on, but many did not take the Bible literally.
By 1800 or so most educated people in Europe, including Christians and the clergy accepted the vast age put forward by geologists, who were often Christian. From 1820 in Britain some well-meaning Christians tried to show that geology was wrong. More secular geologists like Lyell simply scorned them and let them get eviscerated by Christian geologists like Adam Sedgwick (Darwin’s geology teacher) and William Buckland. As a result this biblical literalism went extinct by 1856 and was virtually unknown in Britain until 1968. Creationism took off in the USA after the publication of The Genesis Flood in 1961 which claimed that all geology was wrong and that all strata were laid down in the year of Noah’s Flood. Humans lived alongside dinosaurs as found in the Creation museum in Ohio. Creationism was born and spread in the US and then travelled overseas.
I first came across it in 1971, as I was beginning to train for the Anglican ministry. No one in the church thought it an issue but like cancer it slowly spread among Evangelicals so that by the time of the Arkansas monkey trial of 1981 it has a significant following in Britain , including among Anglican clergy. And so it grew like Topsy, aided by American creationists who came over to give lecture tours, and then after 1990, Ken Ham of Answers in Genesis made many visits and Creationism virtually became the default position among British Evangelicals, and those like me, who thought it wrong, were regarded as intolerant or heretical.
However, creationism not only infected the churches, it was slowly and surreptitiously introduced into schools, whether through Christian Unions, Christian workers and even by science teachers. In the early 90s creationism was taught as science at Emmanuel College, Gateshead. This came out in 2002 after Ken Ham spoke to an out-of-school gathering at the school. For over 30 years creationism has been taught as science in ultra-evangelical faith schools which follow ACE (Accelerated Christian Education) or are in the CST (Church Schools Trust). What is far more concerning is the way it has been allowed to infiltrate into mainstream schools, whether County schools or church schools (usually Anglican). Much of this lies below the radar and only comes to light if noticed by a hawk-eyed observer or when a parent complains. As a result much is anecdotal and does not get properly recorded. For some years the BCSE (British Centre for Science Education) has tried to keep tabs on what is going on. A certain amount comes to light, but I am sure it represents only the tip of the iceberg.
For myself I have observed the slow growth of creationism since 1971. Much has been from my vantage point as a vicar involved in church schools. My conclusion is that teaching creationism is becoming more common despite government warnings against it. Yet it is scarcely talked about and churches, including the Anglican Church tend to ignore it and do not want stroppy clergy rocking the boat! Yet the issue has been there for over twenty years. Within my present diocese it is almost above surface, which is not surprising as 5 -10 % of the clergy are creationists. To give some examples; in 2002 I was asked to give talk on creationism to a group of about 30 clergy and heads of church schools. At the end I got it from one vicar and head, who were ardent creationists. The vicar went to various schools to speak about “science”. A church secondary school held a spiritual day on creation, to which a creationist was invited by the school. On another occasion I received a concerned phone call from an evangelical layman as his parish was starting a new school through the diocese and the vicar wanted to appoint a creationist. During 2009 that vicar often went into secondary schools to speak on Christianity and Darwin…..
Elsewhere a church secondary school in Exeter invited a creationist (Phillip Bell of Creation Ministries International), but a parent complained and contacted the BCSE. This caused friction but, even so, the next year the school invited him again. On discovering that a teacher was teaching creationism in a church school in Sussex and wrote openly about of it on an Evangelical forum, I wrote to the Diocese and the LEA. I am still awaiting a reply. In 2013 an American group were involved in a primary school in Lanarkshire leading school worship. It came to a head when children were given creationist books to take home. Again some parents were offended.
Add to that the way sectarian Christian groups have tried to open Free Schools in recent years – notably the Everyday Champuions School in Newark – later re-named – it is clear that there is a serious problem of the teaching of science in state schools. In fact , I consider the problem of the extreme independent schools like those described by Jonny Scaramanga on Newsnight tonight as of less concern – comparatively speaking.
My concerns are simple, Creationism is being taught as science in some of our state schools – usually under the radar, and that government ministers, LEAs and dioceses do very little about it. Part is the weakness of a liberal tolerance, which wishes to tolerate all sincerely held views. Up to a point that is fine, but we cannot replace science teaching with the rubbish which is creationism.
Useful Reading (the literature is vast)
Young and Stearley The Bible Rocks and Time
Michael Roberts Evangelicals and Science (Greenwood 2008)
Ron Numbers The Creationists Harvard 2006